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Overview and details of the sessions of this online conference.

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Session Overview
F02: Social Safety Net
Thursday, 19/Aug/2021:
2:15pm - 3:45pm

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2:15pm - 2:37pm

COVID-19 Changed Tastes for Safety-Net Programs

Alex Rees-Jones1,2, John D'Attoma3, Amedeo Piolatto4,5,6,7, Luca Salvadori3,6

1University of Pennsylvania; 2National Bureau of Economic Research; 3University of Exeter; 4Autonomous University of Barcelona; 5Barcelona Graduate School of Economics; 6Barcelona Institute of Economics; 7MOVE

In June 2020, we surveyed 2,516 Americans regarding their preferences for both short- and long-term expansions to government-provided healthcare and unemployment insurance programs. We find that support for such programs is positively associated with (a) COVID-19 deaths and infections in the respondent’s county, (b) the pandemic-induced change in the unemployment rate in the respondent’s county, and (c) survey elicitations of the respondent’s perceptions of COVID-19’s consequences. These associations persist when controlling for pre-COVID-19 political ideology and demographics. These results suggest that real or perceived exposure to COVID-19’s consequences has influenced support for expansions to the U.S. safety-net system.

Rees-Jones-COVID-19 Changed Tastes for Safety-Net Programs-160.pdf

2:37pm - 3:00pm

The Response of the Social Safety Net to Recessions

Brad Hershbein1, Bryan Stuart2

1W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, United States of America; 2George Washington University, United States of America

This paper studies how the social safety net has responded to recessions over the last 50 years. Building on recent evidence that recessions cause hysteresis in local labor markets, we estimate event study models that quantify the response of government transfers in places that experience more versus less severe recessions. We find that while unemployment insurance benefits increase only temporarily during recessions, retirement and health benefits remain persistently elevated. The lasting increase in transfers only partially offsets the decrease in earnings, leading to long-term declines in per-capita income relative to less affected areas. We do not find significant differences in the responsiveness of overall transfers before and after welfare reform, largely because cash assistance is a small part of the overall transfer response. Long-term income losses disproportionately fall on lower-income individuals, and areas badly hit by recessions suffer persistent increases in poverty rates.

Hershbein-The Response of the Social Safety Net to Recessions-172.pdf

3:00pm - 3:22pm

Who Lost in Iceland’s Financial Collapse?

Gylfi Zoega1, Andri Scheving1, Axel Hall2

1University of Iceland, Iceland; 2Reykjavik University

The paper uses a unique data set of tax returns of all taxpayers in Iceland from 2000 to 2019 to gauge the allocation of losses. The results show that while high-income, jointly taxed households suffered the most in absolute terms, the picture was different when relative changes in net worth were considered. Urban, low education workers in the age group 36-44 suffered the greatest relative losses. This applies particularly to single individuals, who on average had lower net worth as a ratio to assets to start with. By 2019 all deciles in terms of net worth had recovered their 2007 level of net worth.

Zoega-Who Lost in Iceland’s Financial Collapse-428.pdf

3:22pm - 3:45pm

Public Insurance in Heterogeneous Fiscal Federations: Evidence from American Households

Johannes Fleck1, Chima Simpson-Bell2

1European University Institute, Italy; 2IMF

This paper explores how tax progressivity of low-income households varies across US states. We overcome limitations in survey data by approximating the lower tails of state income distributions and by building an imputation model which measures the response of federal and state income taxes and transfers to changes in pre-tax earnings. Our results account for the geographic uniformity of federal policies as well as regional variation in income distributions, price levels and net transfer policies of state governments. We find large geographic differences in cumulative marginal tax rates and show that these differences materialize as variation in public insurance against transitory earnings shocks; their pass-through to disposable income ranges from 30 to 90%. Adjusting for the purchasing power of tax credits and transfers exacerbates cross-state differences further. States which have higher shares of Black or African American household heads, more Republican leaning voters and lower average incomes provide less insurance.

Fleck-Public Insurance in Heterogeneous Fiscal Federations-470.pdf

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